Music is a powerful tool in advertising. It can define a brand identity or help target the ideal audience. From the catchy ad jingles that dominated postwar American radio and television to the indie-pop music that lingers in modern commercials, advertisers have used music to get their brands into our heads—sometimes years after their campaigns stopped running.
This is what Canadian comedian Jon Lajoie has parodied in his latest music video, “Please Use This Song.” Prior to his success on the FX show “The League,” Lajoie garnered a large YouTube following through his hilarious “Everyday Normal Guy” rap series and other comedic songs. He has poked fun at subjects ranging from the banality of daily life to rap MCs that know too much about bees. With “Please Use This Song,” Lajoie uses a peppy, indie-inspired riff to convince advertisers to buy the rights to this accessible, yet seemingly hip, song that cleverly hits on the alternative ad music trend whose origin traces back almost 50 years ago.
During the turmoil of the late 1960s, advertisers began becoming more interested in using popular music to connect with the young Baby Boomers. In 1968, Buick Motors bought The Doors’ hit “Light My Fire”, which it planned to use to market the Opel. Unfortunately for Buick, the deal was done without the consent of Doors’ front man, Jim Morrison. The deal was quickly scrapped when the singer threatened to smash an Opel with a sledgehammer if the commercial ever aired.
The manufactured jingle continued to reign supreme until the early 90s, when Pepsi used the Van Halen’s socially charged anthem “Right Now” to advertise Crystal Pepsi. While the beverage’s sales eventually fizzled, advertisers saw an immediate response. To a maturing Generation X and Generation Y, songs written by legitimate musicians made brands seem more authentic and just a little bit cooler. This trend carried on well into the late 1990s and early 2000s, with companies using the works of The Rolling Stones, The Cure, and Nick Drake to peddle their software, cameras, and cars.
Lesser-known, independently labeled musicians also began seeing huge benefits to their songs being used for commercial purposes. In 2003, Mitsubishi featured “Days Go By,” a hypnotic dance piece by the U.K. house music group Dirty Vegas, in an ad showcasing the Mitsubishi Eclipse. The song skyrocketed up the U.S. Billboard charts, hitting number 1 in the dance category. In 2005, Sony released a brilliant, playful, and highly acclaimed spot featuring 250,000 rubber balls bouncing gracefully down San Francisco streets to Jose Gonzalez’s delicate “Heartbeats.” The struggling Swedish folksinger was studying for his PhD in Biochemistry when the song became a huge international hit, thanks in part to the success of the Sony commercial.
Professional commercial songwriters began getting wise to the trend; creating wispy, folksy tunes and indie pop melodies mimicking the music of The Feist and Phoenix. This made the “hip but accessible music vibe” that smaller companies, brands, and even political candidates desired far more affordable. Even tech behemoth Apple embraced both indie and the indie-faux musicians, using a childlike, xylophone ditty for their heralded “Mac vs. PC” campaign alongside commercials featuring bands like Honeycut, Yael Naim, and The Black Keys.
This is where Jon Lajoie’s “Please Use This Song” hits a strong cord. Gone are the days of musicians adamantly opposed to “selling out,” instead replaced with a bevy of guitar strumming, independently labeled, singer/songwriters clamoring for the chance to have their work featured in an Apple ad, or at least a decent detergent commercial. This begs the question: have ads gotten cooler or have musicians (or their labels) just gotten more business savvy?